Bishop L. Robinson Sr., Baltimore’s first black police commissioner, dies at 86

January 8

Bishop L. Robinson Sr., Baltimore’s first African American police commissioner, who began his 50-year law enforcement career with the Baltimore Park Police and went on to lead two state agencies, died Jan. 6 at a hospice center in Towson, Md. He was 86.

The cause was Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, said his daughter Jessica Robinson.

After steadily rising through the ranks of the city police department, Mr. Robinson was named commissioner in 1984 by Mayor William Donald Schaefer (D). He went on to become the state’s secretary of public safety and correctional services when Schaefer became governor. He also was secretary of juvenile justice under Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D).

Bishop Lee Robinson was born in Baltimore to a laundry worker and a homemaker. He was a 1945 graduate of Frederick Douglass Senior High School in Baltimore and served in the Army as a clerk typist before being discharged in 1946.

Mr. Robinson earned a bachelor’s degree in 1971 from the University of Baltimore and a master’s degree in education two years later from what is now Coppin State University in Baltimore. He received a law degree from the University of Baltimore in 1986.


Bishop L. Robinson was named Baltimore City’s police commissioner in 1984 by then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer. He went on to become the state’s secretary of public safety and correctional services when Schaefer became governor. (Baltimore Police Department via Associated Press)

Mr. Robinson joined the city’s police department in 1952 as a foot patrolman and later worked for its Criminal Investigation Division. In 1978, Mr. Robinson became a colonel and chief of the Patrol Division, in charge of all nine police districts and the Tactical Division.

In 1981, he was assigned to the Operations Bureau, which oversaw the day-to-day work of the department.

After Mr. Robinson left the department in 1987, Schaefer named him to head the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, a position he held until stepping down in 1997.

One of his notable achievements as secretary was the opening in 1995 of the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center, a $56 million facility that was the first in the nation to consolidate police booking, bail review, fingerprinting and incarceration.

“When Bishop L. Robinson stepped into the job as Maryland’s public safety secretary in 1987, he inherited a prison system in disarray: weak management, poor planning and lengthy construction delays,” said an editorial in the Baltimore Sun at the time of his retirement. “Ten years later, Mr. Robinson leaves his successor a much more disciplined and well-managed department.”

Mr. Robinson then became a consultant for Lockheed Martin until Glendening named him interim juvenile justice secretary in 1999 in the aftermath of abuses uncovered at the state’s juvenile boot camps. He later headed the department as its full-time secretary from 2000 until retiring in 2003.

Mr. Robinson was one of the founding members of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

— Baltimore Sun